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Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009 01:05 am

Making babies possible

New fertility clinic offers high-tech treatments

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Dr. J. Ricardo Loret de Mola and Dr. Gary Horowitz will help manage the new Southern Illinois University Fertility and In Vitro Fertilization Center.
PHOTO BY AMANDA ROBERT

When Dr. J. Ricardo Loret de Mola headed the MacDonald Fertility and In Vitro Fertilization Program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, he treated couples from around the globe.

“People will go to the end of the world for a baby,” he says. “People will not stop until they’ve explored every avenue out there.”

Loret de Mola expects to see a similar crowd at the new Southern Illinois University Fertility and IVF Center, where he now works with two other faculty physicians and three senior laboratory staff members to provide patients with cutting-edge treatments and procedures.

According to SIU, one in every nine couples of childbearing age has trouble conceiving. As awareness of infertility spreads, thanks in part to popular media, Loret de Mola says, more couples seek help. The center, located at the SIU Clinics/Moy Building, could treat as many as 1,000 patients in its first year.

Dr. Gary Horowitz, the center’s medical director; Dr. Mary Ellen McAsey, the laboratory director; and Loret de Mola, the practice director, have experience in opening other IVF centers around the country.

“The conclusion of our experiences, all of the mistakes made, and the things that didn’t work right — it was all considered here,” Loret de Mola says. “We made sure we got the best facility we could get.”

Operating inside a school of medicine that has protocols to ensure patient safety puts them at an advantage, he explains. There’s a multidisciplinary group of doctors such as endocrinologists, cardiologists and gynecologists available in one space to provide everything a patient needs to take a baby home.

Its ability to treat male and female patients under one roof also sets the SIU Fertility and IVF Center apart from others. Dr. Tobias Kohler, the chief of the male infertility/urology division in the surgery department, didn’t even know it was possible to merge the two departments, Loret de Mola says.

Non-toxic adhesives and paints were used during construction to ensure embryo safety. Stainless steel and stone products without chemicals were chosen and the center was provided with its own ventilation system. The SIU Fertility and IVF Center became the first in the country to install a LED lighting system that emits light with special, non-toxic wavelengths.

Loret de Mola says that upon inspection, the center was awarded a Class 1000, or near-clean room status. It’s one of only 10-to-15 facilities in the nation to receive the award, designating it cleaner than the standard for hospital operating rooms.

Even though clinic processes are normally closed to patients, SIU doctors took a new approach. They implemented a unique digital software program that tags and monitors all samples and tissues. They also set up a video screening system in rooms and laboratories, enabling patients to watch staff members manipulate their embryos.

“It’s about transparency,” Loret de Mola says. “The patient is assured of who sees the embryos and how often.”

The SIU Fertility and IVF Center offers treatments unique to central Illinois, including intracytoplasmic sperm injection. During this procedure a man’s single sperm is injected directly into a single egg. Another option, diagnostic and therapeutic testicular biopsy, allows laboratory staff to dissect a sample of testicular matter to locate sperm. Sperm can then be analyzed individually using computer equipment and placed with an egg.

The center also becomes the first in the area to use robotic surgery for women’s urology and gynecology procedures like tubal reversal, resulting in greater precision, less blood loss and a quicker recovery time. Egg donation and surrogacy programs will become available in the future, Loret de Mola says.

In addition to all of the center’s firsts, there’s an added bonus for its doctors and its patients: mandated health insurance coverage for fertility treatment. The state law, enacted in 2004, makes Illinois one of only 13 states to offer coverage.

“We are going to be able to touch the lives of more people than we did in our old practices,” Loret de Mola says. “People came in, we would talk to them, the diagnosis and treatment was clear, but then they said they couldn’t afford it.

“To have the state to back us up, we’re very fortunate.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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